Homosexuality

This site is able to recommend two books and a healing ministry that has particular reference to homosexuality; there must be many places where there are good discussions and material, but these 3 recommendations would no doubt be good starting points. The books are Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Satinover and Counselling the Homosexual by Michael Saia; the ministry is Ministries of Pastoral Care.

For anyone turning to this site and not knowing really what  the Bible has to say about homosexuality I provide my brief overview. What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality? The answer is very little. The only thing that is explicitly recognized is the behaviour. In the Old Testament Law it is a subset of the broad range of illicit sexual practices – any sex act outside of marriage is seen as contrary to God’s ways, and, among God’s people, was severely sanctioned; therefore homosexuality is seen as wrong. Turning to the New Testament, we find that Jesus’ standards are higher – his view is that anyone who looks at a woman with the wrong thoughts in his heart is guilty of adultery – so his application of law is to the heart and this must surely apply to homosexuality too; God certainly wants to keep us from the actions but to do so his focus is on the cleansing of our hearts. Paul’s well-known passage in Romans ch 1 uses homosexuality to exemplify the end result of people turning away from God and worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. Homosexuality appears in Paul’s list of sins and he specifies that together with a number of other ‘lifestyles’ it is a practice which disqualifies one from entrance into the kingdom of God. More on this later.

Of course, in our modern world it has become something of a flashpoint. The pagan world desires to do away with all constraints, particularly in the sphere of sexual relations; the moral world feels alarmed and perhaps threatened  and so often tries to clamp down on any behavior seen as unacceptable, and since in many societies homosexuality is commonly associated with a range of other morally unacceptable behavior, it too is certainly seen that way; and the Christian world is often confused about what to do, tending to over-identify with the moral world, unsure what to do in the public sphere, wishing both to protect the institution of marriage, build a healthy society in which the church view of truth is not side-lined, and try to help individuals find Christ. A moral stance of condemnation is not very helpful; to say homosexuality is ‘wrong’ might be ‘correct’ but if not suitably explained can be  confusing to many people since it is now widely believed that people are somehow born or are ineluctably homosexual – to say it’s wrong is like saying it is wrong to be left-handed, people think; ‘the world’ does not understand anti-homosexuality and often shuts the door to hearing what else might be said . Moral condemnation, when expressed as such is polarizing and also repulses individuals who might otherwise seek help from godly spiritual resources with regard to their own homosexual issues. The church tends not to be on target in what it says about this matter and there is a need for society to hear a clear message; Christian faith is not a moral matter but a spiritual one.

Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth looks at the nature of homosexuality, its possible sources or causes, the campaign over the last many years to ‘normalize’ homosexuality within society, and some aspects of response, which are dealt with from the stance of a professional sought out by those seeking help –  treatment. It’s not quite clear to me whether Satinover is writing from a specifically Christian perspective or not; I understand he has a Jewish background; he is highly qualified and well experienced in the field of psychiatry. With regard to his profession, he notes that in 1963 professional bodies unequivocally stated that homosexuality was an illness, but that just 10 years later, without any alteration to the state of knowledge, it was struck off the list of designated psychiatric illnesses; the political process that led to this is examined. Satinover seeks to demonstrate that homosexuality is in fact a condition with serious medical consequences and a high incidence of psychological illness and suicide; there is a detailed comparison with  alcoholism which is shown to be less dangerous; like alcoholism, homosexuality objectively viewed is highly undesirable but can be ‘cured’. Satinover examines the idea of a ‘gay gene’ and concludes that it is basically false; he describes the origin of homosexual orientation and behaviour as ‘a cluster of influences’.

When it comes to treatment he says that motivated people have a very high recovery rate; in fact he views homosexuality as a relatively mild ‘paraphilia’ (it is interesting to me to note that people who become involved in something like paedophilia are said to be much more deeply affected and should never ever be trusted). He groups treatments in two categories, the secular and Christian, in a chapter which refers to the ministry of Leanne Payne, founder of Ministries of Pastoral Care . His sympathies clearly lie with regarding homosexuality as sin:-

..homosexuality should not be treated as unique among the varieties of human spiritual illness. “Homosexuals” are simply people; in what truly matters they are no different from anyone else, especially in their healing, the current rhetoric notwithstanding. Put differently, people should not be grouped according to the varieties of their sinfulness, neither by those who indulge nor those who criticize them. After all, sin is but our lowest common denominator: all sinners share sin, and all men are sinners.

He goes on to acknowledge the compulsive nature of sin and homosexuality in particular, and therefore the need for great compassion. After a sound look at some spiritual points comparing a Judeo-Christian outlook with neo-paganism, Satinover concludes with 12 propositions which I think  Christian spokespersons would do well to study. Some of it has already been stated above, so the following attempts to summarize further.

‘In the present state of human nature’, sexual looseness is ‘natural’; ‘Sexuality in the state of nature is …commonly sinful. Sanctified, it is one of God’s greatest gifts’; homosexuality, ‘like other forms of compulsive behaviour’ is ‘difficult to modify’, but ‘ethical demands require homosexuals, like all people, to resist their natural sinful impulses’; it is not a true illness except in a spiritual sense; it is susceptible of cure if people choose to ‘depend on others and on God for help’. ‘Secular programs that modify homosexual behaviour are …numerous and..effective’; ‘spiritual programs that lead…into dependency on God….are even more effective’. ‘The modern change in opinion….is contradicted by science.’

A ‘soundbite’ for speakers would be that homosexuality is dangerous spiritually, psychologically and physically; it is not genetic, it is not permanent and in fact changes relatively easily.

There is however a potential problem here, one which I cannot possibly helpfully address since it requires expertise: the problem is whether the claim about change being ‘relatively easy’ is in fact true. I have just been reading articles on this issue at the website of the Society for Christian Psychology, which would suggest that the issue is rather muddier. One thing that does seem clear is that this is a very difficult matter a) for churches to know how to deal with those with ongoing conflict in this area and b) for people experiencing trouble to know how to manage in church and with faith. A friend of mine, a fine man, has a slow, often agonizingly so, and frequently disappointing ‘ministry’ to men in gay bars; his spouse reaches out to ‘sex workers’; they have some success and they are very kind people, but it is clearly fraught with difficulty. He reports that consistently he is talking to unhappy, disturbed people who know that their lives are all wrong and want to talk.

Counselling the homosexual covers quite a lot of the same ground in terms of the origins of homosexuality, but where the Satinover book is good for orientating Christians in the public sphere, Saia ‘s book is about how to help individuals. He points out the simple logic which prevails  in response to the all too common ‘christian’ approach – God hates homosexuality. I am homosexual. Therefore, God hates me. Much of the book is about overcoming this and helping the ‘counselee’ engage with God’s Word. There is an interesting footnote. He says:-

After watching the ‘inner healing movement” in the church for about ten years, I have wondered whether people who have received prayer for “healing of memories” really changed very much. I have nothing against the laying on of hands, or biblical prayer for healing of a ‘wounded spirit”, but I have noticed that people change most radically, not by the laying on of hands, but by the diligent, daily application of the Word of God to their lives. 

The whole book is about Christian living, but particularly as it applies to the person struggling with homosexuality and the homosexual identity. One key distinction is that between orientation and behaviour – feelings and actions; as the love of God gets grounded deeply in a person through the normal disciplines, including resisting temptation to act, feelings change. I remember one young man’s account. He asked God, ‘what do you think of me?’ The reply was this: ‘the world would be a very lonely place for Me without you in it!’ The book has a lot of experience and good sense, for example in the appendix on ‘Witnessing to the homosexual’.

For what it’s worth, my own broad take on the whole issue is how sad it is that someone’s identity  be tied up with this one issue; it is a very unsatisfactory place to find identity, a very poor ‘hiding-place’; no wonder men who identify in this way often seem so touchy and angry (that at least is my limited experience). I also understand that, the establishment of new identity  can take a long time and 1 Peter 1.6 is very clear about the difficulty entailed. Establishing identity in Christ is what the answer looks to be about. (Of course I ask myself – ‘what do I know about all this?’) An uncertain issue is the place of unclean spirits (demons) ; experience tells me that they are certainly involved, but Saia  says that this is not invariably the case. (Personally I am not a little surprised at this.) Throughout his book, the approach to demonization seems generally very sound and applicable to any counselling, but specifically well adapted to the area under discussion. One telling account is of a man who experienced homosexuality as a great problem area, who could  not believe it when told that it was not his real problem – that lay deeper. Then he discovered that as he dealt with his anger, the homosexual issue became insignificant, and was simply overcome.

A message that might be drawn from these two books is that homosexuality can be regarded as and is a relatively superficial neurosis! Given the way Jesus approaches the sexual area as recorded in the ‘sermon on the mount’, that seems a very biblical description; that is to say, in this sermon he speaks to deeper lying issues first, rather than directly to the sexual.

Leanne Payne’s books and Ministries of Pastoral Counselling (MPC) are not entirely focused on this one issue but it is something they are involved with and have many testimonies from those who have left homosexuality behind them. Two in particular of the Leanne Payne books address the matter directly, Crisis in Masculinity  and Broken Image. People seeking help might do well to turn here; their focus is on encounter with Christ; it is a gentle and non-confrontational approach, with links across different traditions, particularly older more sacramentally based denominations. You may like to look at the article Emotional Healing for more on this ministry. My little experience in this area says that homosexual men tend to be sensitive and their needs may be better met by the gentler, more sensitive approaches.

Before closing, there is one final point which is worth making, trying again to obviate the condemnatory line. The point is this: every prohibition of homosexuality is made with regard to God’s people, firstly in the case of the children of Israel, and later in the case of the church. Strong sanctions are stated against homosexual behaviour within these two settings alone. The internal sanctions were and are exclusion; in the case of Israel, by death; in the church, by exclusion from the kingdom. Thus the strong prohibition we are to observe simply has no standing outside the church; we are in no position to condemn. Indeed the expectation is that those without Christ will do any number of things that might be consider appalling from a ‘moral’ angle. There may be a wish for society at large to follow a restrictive pattern in terms of its laws, but where society does have laws against homosexuality there is very little mercy in it and  law provides very little power to overcome. In Christ we are dead to the law and married to another; how can we be imposing law on others when we are ourselves are free from it? This is not a straightforward issue though. In the case of paedophilia it seems very clear that a society that does not protect children by law and its enforcement is in a very bad way. Homosexuality seems relatively less harmful, though there is, it seems, a somewhat increased incidence of paedophilia among homosexuals; where is the line to be drawn in terms of law? Clearly our society has gone too far in terms of normalizing homosexuality and not allowing negative views to be expressed. Indeed there is actual propagation of the view that it’s normal, and even parallel movements towards normalizing paedophilia; the normalization of the one tends to lead to normalizing the second. It would seem that the position we should be taking is to be firm within the church about Jesus’ healing power; to follow the rational line in the world and point out the dangers of the behavior and that the orientation is not in fact fixed; and to redress the balance in the forum of public discussion, working against society’s drift towards a totalitarian prohibition of criticism of sexual licence!